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Women the focus of World Diabetes Day

Women the focus of World Diabetes Day

Women are the focus of World Diabetes Day, Tuesday 14 November. Driven by the International Diabetes Federation, the day promotes action to confront diabetes as a global health issue.

This year, the theme of World Diabetes Day is Women and Diabetes. The campaign promotes access to essential diabetes medicines and technologies for all women at risk of or living with diabetes. It also aims to equip women to help prevent or at least manage type 2 diabetes in themselves and those in their care.

More than 199 million women worldwide currently have diabetes, including 120,000 in New Zealand. The global total is projected to increase sharply to 313 million by 2040.

Diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death in women globally, causing 2.1 million deaths every year.

“Another figure that have health professionals concerned is that two out of every five women with diabetes are of reproductive age. Women with diabetes have more difficulty conceiving and may have poor pregnancy outcomes,” said Dr John Wilson, Endocrinologist at Capital & Coast District Health Board.

Gestational diabetes

Many women develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, when the body fails to produce the increased levels of insulin she needs. Apart from the usual complications of diabetes, many women with gestational diabetes experience complications such as high blood pressure, large babies and obstructed labour.

About one in seven births worldwide is affected by gestational diabetes. In New Zealand, the situation is somewhat better, with one in twelve pregnancies affected by gestational diabetes.

“The rates for gestational diabetes in New Zealand are about 8-9%, using the New Zealand criteria for diagnosing gestational diabetes, which may be different from those used in some other countries that have higher rates of diagnosis,” said Dr Wilson.

New Zealand offers universal screening of women when they are first found to be pregnant with an HbA1c. This is followed by a screening polycose test at about 24 weeks and, depending on the result, a full diagnostic oral glucose tolerance test.

“Recommendations for treatment are the same as for normal pregnancies, with a healthy diet and exercise,” said Dr Wilson. “Many of these women also need additional diabetes treatment, such as doses of insulin.”

While the condition usually returns to normal after the baby has been born, about half of women who had gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes within five to ten years.

Diabetes risk for women

Without pre-conception planning, type 1 and type 2 diabetes can result in a significantly higher risk of maternal and child mortality and illness.

Women with type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune disease usually diagnosed in young people) have an increased risk of early miscarriage or having a baby with malformations. Those with type 2 diabetes (a disease with similar effects, but often related to lifestyle choices) are almost ten times more likely to have coronary heart disease than women without the condition.

“All women with diabetes require affordable and equitable access to care and education to better manage their diabetes and improve their health outcomes,” says Jo Chapman of Diabetes NZ.

Role models

Quite apart from minimising their own risk of developing diabetes and managing the disease when they have it, women also have an important role in the fight against diabetes in their role as mothers and caregivers.

“Women are key agents in the adoption of healthy lifestyles to improve the health and wellbeing of future generations. Mothers, in particular, have a huge influence over the long-term health status of their children,” said Ms Chapman.

The International Diabetes Federation estimates that up to 70% of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. The organisation says that 70% of premature deaths among adults are largely due to behaviour initiated during adolescence.

Local activities

World Diabetes Day falls in the middle of Diabetes Action Month in New Zealand. This annual campaign aims to educate the public around diabetes as a major health issue that affects almost a quarter of a million New Zealanders.

As part of Diabetes Action Month, multisport athlete Emily Wilson is traversing the length of New Zealand to raise awareness of the disease. On World Diabetes Day, she will be at public events in Tauranga in the morning and Rotorua in the afternoon.

“Even if people cannot attend a diabetes awareness event, everyone can show their support for the ongoing fight against diabetes by wearing something blue, the signature colour of diabetes awareness,” said Ms Chapman.


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